On the ground at COP23 in BonnGlobal, national, and sub-national action on coal

Blog - Nov. 15, 2017 - By Binnu Jeyakumar

Binnu Jeyakumar presenting on a panel on the coal phase-out this week at COP23 in Bonn, Germany. Photo: Bora Plumptre, Pembina Institute.

Last week I represented the Pembina Institute on a panel on phasing out coal at the UNFCCC’s 23rd Conference of Parties in Bonn, Germany (also known as COP23). The event was hosted by E3G and other panellists included Bill Hare from Climate Analytics, Catherine Stewart from Environment and Climate Change Canada, and Steven Mills from UK Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy. There was a distinct sense of the urgency in panellist’s remarks: in order to successfully achieve the temperature limits in the Paris Agreement, coal-fired power must be reduced across the world. Interestingly, all participants shared this perspective, whether representing civil society, national, or sub-national governments.

Climate Analytics has conclusively stated that to have a chance of stabilizing global average temperature increases at 2 degrees Celsius, coal-fired power must be phased out by 2030 across the OECD, by 2040 in China, and by 2050 in the rest of the world. One of the largest challenges for all countries in this process is how to transition affected workers and communities. In non-OECD countries, the issue of new coal plants and energy access are key. Interestingly, developing countries don’t necessarily find centralized coal plants to be an effective solution for energy access. Distributed generation and renewables often require less infrastructure and also create projects that communities can participate in.

Both the UK and Canada are playing a leadership role with their commitment to phasing out coal: the UK is phasing out 12 GW of coal by 2025 and Canada is phasing out 9.7 GW of coal by 2030. In both the UK and Canada there are at least three complementary changes happening in parallel: coal phase-out, investment in renewables, and carbon pricing. This package of policies helps send the right signals to industry both in terms of reducing emissions and investing in low-emissions technologies, while creating opportunities for economic growth. But there are risks too: some coal plant operators have announced accelerated retirements and related conversion to natural gas-fired power, which could mean long-term carbon pollution from Alberta’s power sector.

Alberta’s coal phase-out is important as it can be a blueprint for transition efforts in other jurisdictions, and even for other sectors. The government recently announced its plan to support coal workers through support for training, jobs mapping, employment insurance, retirement packages, and so on. In addition, the government’s procurement of utility-scale renewables and forthcoming community energies program should also assist in re-invigorating the communities that will be affected by the coal phase-out. The funding from the carbon levy is being leveraged to provide support.

These different elements of transition — managed decline, ramping up of new economic growth drivers, pricing pollution, and supporting communities — benefit from being planned proactively and in tandem. The process won’t always be easy or straightforward, and that’s why it is so important for jurisdictions to collaborate with each other and share best practices and approaches.

We’re looking forward to seeing how the UK and Canada take their partnership on coal forward into a larger coalition. 

Binnu Jeyakumar

Binnu is the director of the Pembina Institute's electricity program. She is based in Calgary.


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